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EU: Turkish Accession

Volume 688: debated on Monday 22 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the current status of Turkey’s potential accession to the European Union.

My Lords, the Government believe that Turkey’s accession is of strategic importance to the United Kingdom and the EU and we will work hard for sustained progress. We are pleased that negotiations will continue. However, the December General Affairs and External Relations Council agreed that eight of the 35 chapters of the EU acquis will not be opened, and none will be closed, until Turkey implements the Ankara agreement protocol. The screening process will continue and chapters for which technical preparations have been completed will be opened.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate the Government on their very positive attitude towards Turkey’s potential membership of the EU. However, what does he think that the consequences will be if Turkey’s accession process stalls in the light of, for example, the murder a couple of days ago of a prominent journalist and the potential division of the country into nationalist and Islamist forces of the right and the modernising forces linked to the EU? It is a very disturbing possibility.

My Lords, I start by expressing my condolences to the family and friends of Hrant Dink, who was killed on 19 January. He was a peace-loving man of integrity, a credit to Turkey’s diversity and a positive force for freedom of expression in the country. I utterly condemn his murder. The other part of my noble friend’s question is very important. We believe that the prospect of joining the EU is transforming Turkey and it is important that this continues to move forward. The reverse—if it did not continue to move forward—would unquestionably be the consolidation of rightist nationalist forces and, we believe, a considerable impediment to the overall progress of that country. We have great interest in ensuring that this enlargement takes place.

My Lords, while there are certainly some underlying forces and ugly events, to which the Minister has just referred, both inside Turkey and in the European Union that are working to make Turkey’s accession more difficult—and these forces may be growing in strength—is not the immediate cause of difficulties the issue over Cyprus and Turkey’s refusal to conform to the Ankara protocol? Is not the issue behind that the fact that the Nicosia Government—the Greek Cypriot Government—have persistently vetoed and blocked all attempts to resolve the Cyprus situation in an EU context, leading to Turkey’s retaliation? Is not that where the pressure should really be applied now?

My Lords, I think that we have to make progress on all fronts. There is plainly a difficulty with the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, but I have taken some heart from the intervention by Mr Gambari, the Under-Secretary-General, to try to renew the prospects of negotiations and to ensure that the economic isolation of the north Cypriot Turkish community is brought to an end. That should help to stimulate significant changes. But the fact remains that the Ankara agreement must be honoured—and all this against the background of trying to achieve this enlargement, which is certainly in the interests of the progress of Europe.

My Lords, what commitments did the Government receive that the 25 chapters that can be proceeded with now will be proceeded with without the abusive blocking that occurred in the run-up to the European Council in December? What negative consequences might arise for a member state that blocked the renewed attempt to open up trade between north Cyprus and the European Union?

My Lords, I do not believe that it would be productive today to look at the sanctions that might arise. The decision taken at the GAERC meeting was unanimous and I expect that those who supported it, and supported the unanimity, will draw the conclusion that they must work through the consequences. Any other step would be quite dishonourable.

My Lords, notwithstanding the truly shocking assassination of Hrant Dink on Friday and the fact that Turkey is still proceeding somewhat sluggishly in its progress on the various EU criteria, does the Minister not agree that Turkey is a very important country and that there seems to be broad support for its membership of the European Union in the long term? With that in mind, will the Government encourage the resumption of chapter-by-chapter negotiation?

My Lords, it is important that Turkey, too, should meet the obligations or agreements that it has been a signatory to—I do not think that there is any way out for any country in that respect. I hope that what I have said on behalf of the Government indicates our desire to see progress on all these negotiations and a successful conclusion to this enlargement.

My Lords, the first Armenian church in this country was founded in Manchester. Will the Minister advise Members of this House where the Government stand in relation to discussions with Turkey over the Armenian genocide, when those discussions were last held and whether the Government have any intention of raising the matter further during the negotiations for Turkey’s entry into the EU?

My Lords, I start with the most significant part of the right reverend Prelate’s question. For this Government, recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide is not a condition of Turkey’s membership of the EU. I wish to be straightforward and clear about that. Neither this Government nor previous British Governments have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to persuade us that these events should be characterised as genocide under the 1948 UN convention on genocide.

My Lords, on the question of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does the Minister agree that a number of other member states are hiding behind the Cyprus Government to hold up the negotiations over Turkey? It is important not only to press forward with these negotiations but to try to ensure that the disruptive tactics of some of the larger member states that are hiding behind the Nicosia Government are fully exposed.

My Lords, there is no question about the fact that there is no unanimity about Turkey’s accession, but there was not unanimity through many of the processes leading to the most recent accessions and there are still significant discussions about the western Balkans and other potential accession countries. But generally speaking, as we have worked through the problems, those objections have decreased as the advantages of EU membership, and the transformation of those states, have come to be recognised. We will most certainly argue for that outcome.